Macy’s continues its local leadership by celebrating Asian-Pacific American Month at is flagship store in Flushing, New York City – where 60% of the local population is Asian-American. At this event, held on the sales floor with folding chairs to hold the overflow Asian-American crowd assembled, I quickly learned that 90% of Asian-Americans come from six countries: China, India, Philippines, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Local NYC Council Member Peter Koo who represents the 20th District – Flushing – spoke passionately on the need to recognize the good works of Asian-Americans in New York.
“Asian-Pacific Americans have had a tremendous impact on our nation and we are proud to celebrate these achievements with our Asian-Pacific American Heritage month events nationwide,” said Corliss Fong, Macy's vice president of Diversity Strategies. “We are also thrilled to welcome back author, entrepreneur and community leader, Svetlana Kim to Macy's, as she helps us empower our valued guests with her stories of success and achievement.”
The star of the event was Svetlana Kim, a local entrepreneur of Korean-Russian heritage. I came from Russia. Svetlana explained that there are 480,000 Koreans living in former Soviet Union. She shared her inspirational life story with those assembled:
I came to America from Russia, like so many others, to pursue my dreams. My greatest inspiration through every difficulty I have faced was my paternal Grandmother, Bya-ok, which is Korean for “White Pearl.” Her children called her “Olga” but to me she was always my loving Babushka.
White Pearl always believed that I can do, be, and have anything I want if I dream big, and pursue those dreams. She was born in Vladivostok, Russia in 1915. Her parents were the first generation of what we call Koryo-saram, which means “Korean person,” the Korean people who came to Russia in late 19th century.
They came to Russia in the fall of 1899, after a poor harvest and famine in Korea, to pursue a better life. They were country people, very down-to-earth and hard-working. These are the people White Pearl and I are descended from – people of courage, of tenacity.
I came to America with one dollar and knew one word which was “Hi!” in December of 1991. My first job was with Macy’s? I was hired as a part-time Lancôme Beautify Advisor sixteen years ago at Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco. My very first year I sold as much as a full-time person. I received a Presidential Circle Award after 12 months working at Macy's.
How did I begin? I went to a Salvation Army store on Fillmore Street and spent $1.50 to buy an array of makeup. Then ended up at the Union Square in downtown San Francisco. I walked to Lancôme counter at Macy’s Union Square and asked a person behind the counter who was a Corporate Executive if they are hiring people. I asked for a job, I got a job. I started my training in one week. The world is your oyster.
This month, I honor all Americans who trace their ancestry to Asia and the Pacific Islands. Brave men and women seeking better lives and opportunities to live an American Dream. Today we celebrate their immeasurable contribution. They enriched American in countless ways.
Despite these obstacles, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have persevered, achieving success in every sector of American life, and impacting mainstream U.S. culture today. Music, Art, literature, fashion, politics, science, technology are only a few examples. Asian Americans are the most diverse ethnic group today, with the influence of more than fifteen different cultures.
Asian Americans are affluent. They are well educated, earn a higher income, and spend heavily on a range of products and services. Did you know that with nearly $450 billion in annual buying power and expect to reach $670 billion by 2010, Asian Americans are a powerful force in the U.S. consumer market. They are spending a significant amount per month on apparel, more likely to buy a new luxury car versus a non-luxury car, and projected to increase in their investment holdings to $1 trillion by 2012.
Did you know that Asian Americans are the fastest growing group and younger than the overall U.S. population? Their median age is 31 years. Though Asian Americans have been successful in finance, engineering, law, and medicine, there are still many unexplored industries. Asian Americans are still working hard to reach some of the top management and key industries. Why is that? I strongly believe that we, Asian Americans, need to take initiatives to make these changes. The time is now.
I urge you all to take responsibility to make a change at your company. If your company does not offer diversity programs, let them know it importance. We need to take the initiatives to make a seat at the table, bring best ideas, and lead with power and integrity, and mentor one person.
In December of 1991, I arrived in New York City—as I've mentioned—with one dollar in my pocket and not a word of English in my vocabulary. I had every odd stacked against me. But I literally emerged from disaster to success. Far more than that, though, I was eager to find out who I was. Since then—as with all destinies and great adventures—I have gone places I never imagined I would. For me, it has been a great journey, with struggles, challenges, sorrows, and joys.
Macy’s has long been a leader in social responsibility. I salute Macy’s, NYC Council Member Peter Koo, and especially local entrepreneur Svetlana Kim this Asian-Pacific American Month. American corporations continue to be responsible to their communities, and Asian-pacific Americans continue to prove that the American Dream is obtainable with enough pluck and luck.
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